"Everything will be better once the future arrives". The irony of this sentence is not lost on expatriate Brazilian director Karim Aïnouz, as he creates a somewhat Apichatpong-ese "game of two halves" split between his native Brazil and his adoptive Germany, in the highly uneven but strangely bewildering Praia do Futuro.
The irony is, of course, that the future has arrived for its characters but it's debatable whether it's the promised better future; and that the film itself, taking its name from the actual beach in Mr. Aïnouz's native city of Fortaleza, mirrors so precisely the fragile and yearning nature of that desire of a better future. It is, after all, a tale of duplicates and mirrors, halves, parts and counterparts, about men straining to live up to their (self) images; its stylized fetishization of masculinity at once its saving grace and its doom.
Praia do Futuro develops from the tragic death of a German tourist in the titular beach, a man lifeguard Donato (Wagner Moura) fails to save from drowning. Konrad (Clemens Schick), the deceased's traveling companion, a biking adventurer and Afghanistan vet, survives; and Donato and Konrad strike a lustful relationship out of shared grief and desire. But that affair begins to jab at the lifeguard's own idea of himself, and with the admiration of his younger brother Ayrton, as his very own role model of what a man should be.
In Donato's self-awareness and self-discovery, given a nuanced, brave performance by Mr. Moura, Mr. Aïnouz creates a tale of recognising one's humanity and frailty: the lifeguard has to decide the future he wants to pursue: stay and fulfill a role that dazzles his younger brother but to which, after letting one man drown, he now feels unsuited for; or leave and rebuild himself elsewhere as someone else.
What unbalances Praia do Futuro is its striving to go beyond the "queer film" its same-sex relationship seems to want to box it as. Mr Aïnouz wants to speak of a universal experience of taking your life in your hands, of being faced with an epochal moment in your life; but the way he shoots the male body and chooses to set the film in a codified world of stock masculinity (lifeguards, soldiers, bikers) almost forces the film to stay within a "queer cinema" trap.
More to the point, just like its lead character, so is Praia do Futuro divided between being a coming-of-age story and a coming-out story - coming of age as coming out (not necessarily in the sense of one's sexuality but more of one's identity), and coming out as coming of age (becoming the man you really want, or need, to become). All the three leads have to deal with what they want to be and what they are and, in the process, find their place in the world.
At heart a simple tale of men looking for themselves in a complicated world, Praia do Futuro doesn't really choose what it wants to be, and that indecision costs it somewhat. It wants to reach for the stars while keeping its feet on the ground. But it transcends its shortcomings through the confident, stylish handling and the irrepressible sense of optimism that it projects, the idea that there's something more, something better around the next bend, even if you can't quite see it at first.
PRAIA DO FUTURO
Brazil, Germany 2014
Cast Wagner Moura, Clemens Schick, Jesuíta Barbosa
Director Karim Aïnouz; screenwriters Felipe Bragança and Mr. Aïnouz; cinematographer Ali Olcay Gözcaya (colour, widescreen); composer Volker Bertelmann "Hauschka"; art director Marcos Pedroso; costumes Camila Graça; editor Isabela Monteiro de Castro; producers Geórgia Costa Araújo and Hank Levine; production companies Coração da Selva in co-production with Detail Film, Hank Levine Film and Watchmen Productions
Screened February 11th 2014, Berlinale Palast, Berlin (Berlinale 2014 official screening)